Game 21 Preview: Tigers at Twins

Ed Zurga

Anibal Sanchez and Phil Hughes will face off this afternoon after last night's high-scoring affair.

Detroit Tigers (12-8) at Minnesota Twins (11-11)

Time/Place: 2:10 p.m., Target Field

SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (0-2, 3.54 ERA) vs. RHP Phil Hughes (1-1, 6.43 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Sanchez 4 20.1 9.74 3.98 0.00 1.18 2.21 3.57 0.7
Hughes 4 21.0 8.57 2.57 1.29 1.67 4.00 3.66 0.3

A lot of people expect Phil Hughes to thrive in the spacious confines of Target Field after serving up home run after home run at Yankee Stadium over the last seven years. His home/road splits are quite telling, with a career ERA and FIP nearly a full run lower on the road. Things have not gone as planned thus far, but there is reason for optimism. He has yet to allow a home run at home this season, and his current 3.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio would be his highest since 2009 if maintained all year long. Three of his first four opponents currently rank among the top 10 teams in baseball in runs scored. His 31.3% line drive rate and .394 BABIP will come back to earth.

Another promising component to Hughes' start is his fastball velocity. He missed a large chunk of the 2011 season with shoulder inflammation, and did not see his fastball return to the 93-94 mile per hour range until last year. He is averaging 93 miles per hour on the nose with his four-seam fastball in 2014, but isn't using it as often as in the past. Hughes is relying more on his secondary pitches this year, which have varied over the past few seasons according to PitchFX. He has all but abandoned his changeup so far, instead focusing on his cutter/slider and curveball. The increased curveball usage has resulted in a spike in his ground ball rate, which may or may not be sustainable. The cutter has made him surprisingly effective against lefties, who are hitting .229/.302/.417 off him this season.

Anibal Sanchez finally looked like the guy that torched the American League last season in his previous start, cruising through the first six innings with just one hit allowed. Then, the wheels fell off. He sandwiched an Adam Dunn strikeout in the middle of a four hit, three earned run stretch and was promptly lifted by Brad Ausmus. The damage had been done, however, and Sanchez took his second loss of the season. He displayed much better command than in his previous start, walking one hitter. In particular, his fastball command was miles better, which made his off-speed pitches more effective.

Hitter to fear: Joe Mauer (.385/.467/.385 in 15 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Brian Dozier (.083/.154/.083 in 13 plate appearances)

Ah, there's the Joe Mauer we know. Mauer is 5-for-13 with five singles -- all to the opposite field, presumably -- in his career against Sanchez. He and Pedro Florimon are the only Twins hitting above .250, though only four players have more than 10 plate appearances against Sanchez. These numbers make sense when you consider that Sanchez has limited the Twins to hitting just .239/.309/.308 in seven starts. He allowed six runs in five starts against Minnesota in 2013 and threw a one-hit shutout at Comerica Park on May 24th.

Outlook

Despite knocking out Twins starter Kevin Correia in the third inning, the Tigers actually used more pitchers than the Twins last night. Innings monster Anthony Swarzak had a lot to do with this, but it doesn't change the fact that both teams would like their starter to give the pen a break this afternoon. Both Sanchez and Hughes cruised through six innings before getting roughed up in the seventh in their last outings. The last starter to blink could make the difference today, and Sanchez's stellar history against the Twins gives the Tigers an edge on paper.

Prediction

The 2013 version of Anibal Sanchez returns today and the Tigers win their third in a row.

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